Like much of the rest of Southeast Asia, Thailand offers an awful lot to travelers. Beautiful beaches and landscapes, great weather, fantastic food, and low prices make it an appealing destination, and many millions of visitors flock to the country every year.
For those looking to stay connected in the Land of Smiles, buying a prepaid SIM card as a tourist is a fairly straightforward and inexpensive process. Data allowances are quite generous, and you’ll get decent speeds and good coverage almost anywhere you’re likely to be.
I’ve spent years traveling through the country, from busy cities and towns to quiet islands and isolated national parks. Having tried all the major cell companies, I’ve found the best Thai SIM card for most visitors, whether you’re on a short vacation or plan to stay for weeks or months at a time.
Here’s everything you need to know in 2023.
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There are three cell networks in Thailand, operated by dtac, AIS, and TrueMove. While you can also buy SIM cards and service from resellers, there’s little point in doing so for most visitors.
AIS has the best coverage and largest market share, plus a large network of Wi-Fi hotspots you can access as part of the more expensive packages. It seems like you’re rarely far from one of these hotspots in any good-sized city or town, and they don’t count towards your mobile data allowance.
Prices are only slightly more expensive than the competition, so if you’re traveling to less-populated parts of the country, AIS SIM cards are the best option for most people, with LTE coverage widely available.
5G is being rolled out, although it’s still confined to major cities at this stage. Most international visitors are unlikely to have phones that support the right frequencies for 5G in Thailand, and given that 4G/LTE is cheaper, much more widespread, and often still pretty fast, it’s not something to worry too much about at this stage.
I’ve also used TrueMove and dtac’s Happy prepaid services, with TrueMove in particular often a little cheaper than the others. Both provided good coverage and speeds in towns and cities, but there were some service gaps in rural areas and on less-populated islands.
So, in short: if you want the greatest coverage, go for AIS. If you’re not heading too far off the beaten track, any of the three major suppliers will do the job, with TrueMove typically being a bit cheaper than the other two.
How to Buy a Prepaid SIM Card in Thailand
Like many other things in Thailand, buying a SIM card is quite simple, especially if you fly into either of Bangkok’s airports. At both Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang, all three cell companies have booths beside each other in the arrival hall.
The booths at Suvarnabhumi are often busy, with long lines for all providers. Staff are efficient and the lines move fairly quickly, but if you’re tired and grumpy after a long flight, it’s not the most enjoyable experience.
dtac (Happy) has a self-service machine right beside its booth in the main arrival area, which takes cards and Thai baht notes. Customers generally seem to ignore it despite the long line for counter service, so it’s a good option if you don’t need assistance.
It’s possible to buy SIMs at other international airports in Thailand as well, including Phuket and Chiang Mai. Many of the airport SIM card stalls shut down during the pandemic, but with tourism back in full swing, they’ve all reopened again.
You used to be able to buy a wider range of SIM card packages at standard prices at the 7-11 near the Airport Rail Link entrance in the basement of Suvarnabhumi airport, but when I last enquired in late 2022, I was only offered tourist SIMs at the same price as the booths in the arrival hall.
If lines are long at the main counters and you need to take a train into the city anyway, it might be worth getting your SIM at that airport 7-11, but otherwise it’s not worth the effort of heading down there.
If you don’t mind spending a bit more to be connected quickly and easily when you first arrive, feel free to pick up one of these tourist SIM card packages. If saving money is more of a priority, you’ll get better deals at convenience stores and official retail shops outside the airport.
Thailand bought in stricter requirements for buying SIMs a few years ago, which means the days of just handing over cash at the corner store are gone. Foreigners now need to provide their passport and have their photo taken as part of the registration process.
I experienced this first hand on previous trips to Bangkok, both at a 7-11 and an official carrier store in a shopping mall. In both cases, the staff member took a copy of my passport and snapped a photo of me on a phone or tablet app.
I’m not a fan of onerous identification requirements like these. Unless you’re buying from a street vendor and are happy with a used SIM that could be shut off at any time, however, you’re pretty much stuck with it.
On the upside, the rest of the process was relatively painless. At the store, I took a number for an English-speaking sales rep, picked a call/text/data package from a printed brochure at the counter, and handed over the money.
The rep did the rest, including activating the SIM, loading my credit onto it, and selecting the right package. It took about ten minutes in total, and the SIM worked immediately.
At the 7-11, I asked for a basic SIM card, then picked a package from a list on the cashier’s screen. After paying for the card and a top-up voucher to cover the total amount, I installed the SIM and added the credit using the instructions on the voucher.
Finally, the cashier gave me the right text code to enter for the package I was after, which activated immediately. Again, the process took about ten minutes.
At the airports, because the options are more limited (typically half a dozen packages, mostly based around how long you’ll be in the country), the process is even simpler. Hand over your phone and passport, pick a package, and pay. Cards (both foreign and local) and cash are accepted.
Prepaid SIM Costs
Most of the tourist SIM cards sold at airports in Thailand offer “unlimited” data packages. With them, you get a certain amount of high-speed data, and greatly-reduced speeds after that. A small amount of call credit may or may not be included as well.
Prices and details change all the time, but the below photo (taken last year) of the various plans on offer at the Happy stand at Suvarnabhumi airport baggage reclaim give a good idea of the kind of thing you can expect.
In summary, you either get truly unlimited data capped to a particular speed, or a fairly large amount of data at full speed followed by unlimited amounts of slower data, for a certain length of time. They all come with some sort of domestic call allowance as well, either a certain amount of credit or a number of minutes.
AIS had broadly similar pricing, albeit with some variation in data allowances and validity periods, while TrueMove was slightly cheaper. None are great value compared to purchasing outside the airport, but they’re still relatively inexpensive by global standards.
If you’re happy to wait, buy your SIM card from a convenience store or official outlet elsewhere in Thailand instead. There, you’ll have access to the full range of call, text, and data packages. They are many and varied, with validity ranging from a day to a month or more.
Note that if you’re planning to buy from a convenience store, not all chains sell all SIM cards. 7-11 doesn’t sell AIS SIMs, for example, and a Tesco Lotus store I walked into near Don Mueang didn’t sell SIM cards at all.
I usually buy from convenience stores, but have gone through the effort of seeking out at an AIS store in a mall in Bangkok in the past. Unless you happen to be staying close to one, there’s no particular need to do this: it’s likely to take longer, and any financial saving will be minimal.
In the interests of research on my last two trips, I decided to buy Happy and TrueMove SIMs at the airport rather than going for my usual AIS option in town.
On the first one, knowing I’d be in Thailand for a couple of months, I went for the Happy 899 baht package shown in the photo above. That gave 60GB of high-speed data each month, valid for 90 days, and I didn’t come close to using that amount of data!
On a shorter trip later in the year, I picked up a TrueMove 299 baht package with 5GB of data, valid for 15 days, before jumping on a bus headed south.
You can buy top-ups pretty much anywhere in Thailand, including many convenience stores, AIS retail locations, and several other places. Just keep an eye out for the AIS/1-2-Call logo. It’s also possible to top up online with a credit/debit card on the AIS website.
No matter how you top up, you may then need to purchase or renew the actual package you want to use. Be sure to do this, as the default call, text, and data rates aren’t particularly cheap.
Call *777# from your phone for an interactive menu that lets you choose your package. To switch your AIS SIM from Thai to English, enter *700*9*7*2# and wait a minute or two for the confirmation text.
Coverage and Data Speeds
AIS coverage is good almost anywhere you’re likely to go as a tourist, and much of the rest of the country as well.
I’ve had full signal most of the time in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, and other provincial capitals, as well as on bus and scooter trips in the countryside and on several islands. I even had service for a while after crossing the border into Cambodia, at least until I got outside the range of the last Thai cell tower.
It’s also worth mentioning the exceptional speed of the AIS SUPER WI-FI network. I regularly saw over 150Mbps download speeds when connected to it, and since it doesn’t count towards your cellular data allowance, it’s well worth using this network if your SIM package includes access to it.
Data speeds are reasonable, but definitely vary depending on where you are and how busy the cell tower is that you’re using. I had much faster LTE speeds in Chiang Mai than Bangkok, for instance.
As mentioned earlier, TrueMove and dtac/Happy coverage and speeds are good in populated areas but can drop off in more isolated spots.
Traveling through the Trang island group with a TrueMove SIM, for instance, LTE availability was hit or miss, although I usually (but not always) had 3G/HSPA+ service with usable but not fast speeds. 4G/LTE speeds in Phuket, however, were very quick.
With a Happy SIM, LTE download speeds were pretty good in Bangkok and Hua Hin, only occasionally slowing down to any noticeable degree. Upload speeds weren’t as impressive, but they were still enough for video calls and anything else I wanted to do.
Downloads were even faster in Krabi and Ao Nang, and remained surprisingly quick on popular nearby islands like Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta. Speeds were also good on Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao, with reliable service everywhere except a few of the more isolated spots in the center of the islands.
Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.